The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Congee Village, NYC

Our final eat-out in NYC was at a Chinese restaurant, neither a new nor adventurous dining experience, yet it is perhaps one of the best eats we had in NYC. Even the name Congee Village doesn't hint that they serve so much more than just congee. Located close to the heart of Chinatown (though it can still be considered to be within the vast vicinity of NYC Chinatown), it wasn't too difficult to locate. The restaurant space was quite large, and we were directed to the dining area above the bar adjacent to the main dining area. The interior was beautifully decked out with bamboo, which seemed rather extravagant for a place so casually named. Service was friendly enough.

The NYC foodie folks in eGullet said that the lamb chops were to die for, but that you had to explicitly request for the lamb chops menu. In fact, there are perhaps five levels of menu in addition to the one you'd be presented, Not being a big fan of lamb meat, I was admittedly reluctant to ask for lamb chops, but the curiosity about the legendary lamb chops eventually won. And it was just like the eGulleters said, not a whif of mention of lamb was on the menu, which already had quite an impressive offering. So we asked the waiter about the lamb, and him not understanding much English and us not having the ability to speak much Chinese certainly made for an amusing encounter. Eventually he called the floor manager over, and the manager informed us that indeed they served lamb chops which would cost $18 for a plate. Since it didn't look like we were going to be given a range of choice to choose from, I asked how the lamb was served. "Special sauce", he replied. We placed an order for one.

We had fried Mantau (Chinese bread) to start with. It was beautifully fluffy when bitten into. If I recall correctly, it was served with honey as a dipping sauce.

The fried mantau:

After that, our order of Frog's Legs Congee arrived, and Rob had his first taste of frog's legs which he said tastes just like chicken, but more tough to chew and more bones to deal with. The congee itself was mildly flavoured, which was a good thing since I'd half expected it to be heavily salted like most food we had in NYC. We also ordered Lotus root with special bean sauce based on recommendations again by the foodies in eGullet, and it was really scrumptious and more-ish. It was a huge serving but we surprised ourselves by finishing it off before we left the restaurant.

Frog's legs congee and the lotus root with special bean sauce:

When the chops arrived, frankly, it didn't look anything outstanding. Since I quite dislike the strong taste of lamb meat, I hesitantly bit into one of the chops. It was delicious! Succulent and tender with a yummy sauce, it was perhaps the best lamb I have ever eaten! Even after eating all that food, placed an order for the Baked Rice with Seafood, mostly because we liked how it was presented stuffed inside bamboo. It was pretty tasty, and the squid in particular was very tender.

The yummy lamb chops and the baked rice:

We rank this dining experience as one of the top three best eats we had during our 2-mth stint in NYC. I'm glad that this was a really nice experience since I don't know when the next time we'll eat good Chinese food again (let's just say I've yet to have decent Chinese food in Japan). When Rob paid compliments to the manager about the lamb, the manager proudly told him that they had many more lamb dishes to choose from, and that we ought to come back to Congee Village to try them. And I thought I'd never say this for lamb meat, but I really would like to try their other lamb dishes! Too bad we won't have the opportunity to do that anytime soon.

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